The waiting game for the Binghamton Senators is finally nearing its conclusion.
Nearly a week after finishing off a sweep of the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference final, the B-Sens still don't know who they'll face in the American Hockey League's championship series. But the mystery will end later tonight, when the Hamilton Bulldogs and Houston Aeros play Game 7 of the Western Conference final at the Toyota Center deep in the sizzling heart of Texas.
It was a scenario that seemed improbable just last week, when the Aeros raced out to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Now the Bulldogs have a shot at becoming only the third team in AHL history to erase such a deficit and advance. Whatever happens, the Calder Cup final is likely to start Friday, with the B-Sens headed on the road to open a fourth straight series. They'll travel to that destination on Wednesday.
At this point in time, they're not too fussy about the opponent. The B-Sens just want to get it started.
"We don't have a preference right now. We'd just like to know who it is, I guess," Binghamton forward Ryan Potulny said today during an online chat
at AHL.com. "We're focusing on ourselves right now, but it looks like they both have been playing some pretty good hockey lately. So we don't have a preference (who we play), but we just want to find out who it is."
By the time the final starts, the B-Sens will have endured an eight-day wait between games. That's not exactly standard procedure in a league in which teams often play three games in three nights — or four in five — during the regular season. But given the rash of injuries they've dealt with throughout the playoffs, Binghamton's players and coaching staff have made the most of the rest.
Now it's a matter of sharpening the focus for the Calder Cup final opener. Today, head coach Kurt Kleinendorst put his team through an intrasquad scrimmage, just to get them back into game mode.
"For me, (the layoff) is going to end up being far too long," he told the Binghamton Sun & Press-Bulletin
. "I know that I can't create game night, but I can try to simulate it a little bit."
Potulny, who leads all AHL playoff scorers with 25 points (14-11), liked the change of pace.
"We have enough players where we had two lines on each bench," he said. "Half of the guys wore our home jerseys and half the guys wore our road jerseys. We tried to make it as game-like as we could — we went out for warmups, came off and then went back out and played two 25-minute periods with running time.
"There were some fans that came out to watch and support us. I think that will help us out to keep things more game-like. But once Game 1 comes, it's the Calder Cup final, so we'll be ready for it."
So, too, will be the hardy hockey fans of Binghamton, who have only seen one Calder Cup final before now — back in 1981-82, when the Whalers dropped a five-game series to the New Brunswick Hawks. But it's new territory for the B-Sens, who first arrived in town nine years ago. The buzz is clearly palpable already, with three-game ticket packages being scooped up at a rapid pace.
"We talk about that in the locker room, how special it is (for the fans)," said Potulny. "We had a team meal last night and one of the owners stood up and talked about how he hears people around town, how excited they are for this team and how badly they wanted a team to do well in the playoffs over the last few years.
"That's one thing we understand, how special it is to this city."